Nov 19, 2021 - Energy & Environment

U.S. weather forecasting is about to get better

A woman pointing toward a trend line on a dollar bill background

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIF) includes large sums for improving the accuracy of weather and climate forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Why it matters: Making wildfire detections and forecasting more accurate, as well as honing weather and climate projections, are increasingly vital tasks as the weather grows more extreme due to human-induced climate change.

Driving the news: According to a Nov. 15 memo from NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad, the BIF provides nearly $500 million for NOAA’s coastal and inland flood mapping, forecasting and water modeling. It also includes:

  • $50 million for improving wildfire forecasting.
  • $50 million for new instruments and equipment to aid in the detection, observation and modeling of wildfires.
  • $80 million for buying research supercomputing resources for advancing forecast accuracy.

Context: In addition to annual appropriations, the infrastructure law is the latest move by lawmakers to provide funding boosts for the nation’s top weather and climate agency, whose computing power and weather model accuracy had fallen behind other nations in recent years.

  • NOAA’s public affairs office told Axios the agency received more than $60 million in bills enacted in 2018 and 2019 to “accelerate improvements in weather forecasting,” among other purposes.
  • Recently, NOAA also saw increased funding, on the order of $105 million for the fiscal year 2022, to improve its forecasting capabilities.
  • At the same time, NOAA has also been upgrading the GFS model and its ensemble system, which helps forecasters quantify the uncertainty associated with a given projection.

What's next: With all this added money, there's an expectation on and off Capitol Hill that NOAA's forecasts will be more on par with its peers around the world.

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